Suicide – The Inconsolable Sin? 

Editor writes…

A reader – we’ll call him Mark (not his real name) – emailed the following short article for publication.  We’re withholding his real name out of consideration for the young suicide, Shaun (also not his real name).

From the Catholic Encyclopaedia:

Positive and direct suicide perpetrated without God’s consent always constitutes a grave injustice towards Him. To destroy a thing is to dispose of it as an absolute master and to act as one having full and independent dominion over it; but man does not possess this full and independent dominion over his life, since to be an owner one must be superior to his property. God has reserved to himself direct dominion over life; He is the owner of its substance and He has given man only the serviceable dominion, the right of use, with the charge of protecting and preserving the substance, that is, life itself. Consequently suicide is an attempt against the dominion and right of ownership of the Creator. Source

Mark writes…

I found out today that a young man I know, Shaun, had died. Given that he was only in his early twenties, I was shocked and the first thing I asked was, “What on earth happened?” The facial expression of the person who had broken the news to me said it all. He had committed suicide.

Suicide is something that often occupies my thoughts. Not in the sense that I’ve considered it myself, quite the opposite in fact. I’m at a complete loss as to how someone could get to the point where they don’t want to live. My grandfather committed suicide many years ago. Some of the boys I went to school with did too. Now, a boy l have known for many years has chosen to end his life. We don’t know why. How his family feel right now I can’t even imagine. What a waste of a life!

Quite recently, British soap “Coronation Street” was praised for raising awareness of male suicide when it ran a storyline involving the suicide of a popular male character. We are told that more must be done to encourage young men to talk about their feelings. We must remove the stigma of mental ill-health, the experts declare. When talking with a friend about the awful news I received today, they suggested that we should do more to promote a growth mindset. Although I don’t necessarily disagree with any of these suggestions, I also have a different view which I hope to explore in this short reflection.

We all endure difficulties in life. Family troubles, relationship issues, money worries and health problems, to name but a few. Many of us experience bouts of low mood and even depression. However, to contemplate and attempt suicide is different. What could possibly lead someone to that dark precipice where death is the only answer? I don’t know. This is the key question I’m asking myself tonight through my shock and grief.

I can’t help but wonder if rejection of God plays a part. Shaun was Catholic and as a child had a strong devotion to St Joseph. However, in his teenage years, Shaun drifted from the Faith and even promoted the LGBT agenda. I’ve now idea if he was homosexual himself. What’s clear is that although, as far as I’m aware, Shaun never made any declaration that he had rejected God, his actions suggest that he had. Is there a connection here? I think there is.

I often wonder what my life would be like if I didn’t believe in God and didn’t adhere to the Catholic Faith. The thought terrifies me. Although I’m by no means a model Catholic and often neglect my religious duties, faith in God keeps me sane. There’s something to live for! The promise of Heaven and eternal life with God sheds light even on the darkest of days. Without faith, without the Catholic Church, I would have nothing. Would life be worth living? On a purely human level, perhaps. Lying in bed until midday on a Sunday, eating steak and chips on a Friday and never having to worry about Commandments morning might allow me to sink into a pleasure-filled cesspit. However, lying in bed at night and realising how short life is would surely terrify me.

Did Shaun believe in God? Did he believe that God is his loving Father? Did he believe he had a soul? Did he know that his soul was made in the image and likeness of God? How COULD he believe all this and still do what he did?

Right now, I find myself thinking about where Shaun’s soul is now. I know the Church’s teaching on suicide. It’s a mortal sin. Is there any hope for those who commit suicide? If there’s mental illness involved, can the person have full knowledge and/or consent? How can someone commit suicide and NOT be mentally ill? I don’t know if there are definitive answers.

Comment:

How, then, should we  pray for those who have committed suicide?  Gut Catholic instinct suggests entrusting the soul to Our Lady’s motherly love, but please feel free to share your own thoughts, devotions, quotes, videos and prayers to console Shaun’s family and the families of all those who have taken their own lives, unless, that is, you believe it is impossible to console anyone suffering the loss of a friend or family member as a result of suicide – IS suicide “the inconsolable sin”?     

20 responses

  1. To commit a mortal sin, my understanding is that the action must be taken having though about it in sufficient depth, while having a full awareness of the severity of the offence and yet still deciding to proceed anyway.

    When we consider that suicide itself is obviously an irrational action, typically born of depression / mental-illness, then it does appear that a person in such a predicament would be unable to properly think through their actions. if someone’s brain is not working properly, for whatever reason, then we can hardly judge their actions with the same standard as the actions of a heaklthy, clear-sighted and lucid individual.

    The only possible exception to this I could imagine is people who choose to be euthanised to avoid suffering from an illness or old age. They technically have an objective and selfish motivation, but then could some people in these situations not also be affected by depression (if diagnosed with an incurable disease) or other faulty brain operation (we know that elderly people can suffer a range of brain problems, which are prevalent in the modern age because we are living so much longer , that we are starting to experience new health issues, such as the brain essentially “wearing out”).

    Its obviously why the Church speaks against suicide, but we must remember that in previous centuries we had no understanding or awareness at all of “unseen” health conditions, such as mental illnesses. This awareness must obviously now inform how the Church regards suicide.

    Ultimately a suicide is always a real tragedy and, while i don’t want to come over all “novus ordo”, I do not think God would damn anyone who had undertaken such a bleak, irrational action while most likely suffering from a serious mental illness. Yes I am sure that destroying the life we have been given is offensive to God – like the rejection of a precious gift – but then how big is the tragedy for the individual themselves, are they not in a sense the biggest victim?

    And the pain of such a loss is huge to friends and family left behind, would God really increase their suffering by allowing no hope for the deceased, on top of the tragedy of suicide? How could we comfort the bereaved, as Christians should, if there was genuinely no hope?

  2. St Pelagia’s story might console people who are suffering loss as a result of suicide. I’ve copied the first paragraph from the EWTN page about her:

    “She was a tender virgin at Antioch, only fifteen years of age when she was apprehended by the persecutors in 311. Being alone in the house, and understanding that their errand was to carry her before the judge, where her chastity might be in danger, she desired leave of the soldiers to go up stairs and dress herself. But fearing to be an innocent occasion to others’ sin, threw herself from the top of the house, and died on the spot by her fall: in which action, says St. Chrysostom, she had Jesus in her breast inspiring and exhorting her. She probably hoped to escape by that means; and might lawfully expose her life to some danger for the preservation of her chastity; but nothing will ever make it lawful for any one directly to procure his own death. ”
    http://www.ewtn.com/library/MARY/PELAGIA.htm

    Some people would say she didn’t commit suicide because she was trying to protect her purity, but the deliberate taking of our own life, irrespective of the reason, is still forbidden by the Church. Which begs the question why was she canonised?

    I’ve known more than one person who committed suicide and it is a terrible thing. I just say the usual prayer for the dead (Eternal Rest) and trust them to God’s mercy, because their mental state must have been such that they didn’t really make a free choice. That’s my opinion, and if there is not a deliberate and fully free choice, I doubt there’s mortal sin.

    • Lily

      This story of St Pelagia is very troubling, and I would say that she committed suicide based on the above details. I was always taught that it is never permissible to take one’s own life to escape suffering, or rape, or any suffering of whatever kind, so I can only think that there is something left out from this story.

      Those who commit suicide while the balance of their mind is disturbed are a different case; only God knows the truth of each action, and I always give them the benefit of the doubt and pray for those souls who have died by their own hand.

      • Therese,

        That story about St Pelagia troubles me, as well. I can’t find anything to explain it, so I would welcome it if anyone else can do so.

  3. I am reminded here of the story of a “spiritual daughter” of Padre Pio. She went to him inconsolable because her husband had jumped from a bridge into the water below and died. More than the grief of losing her husband was the thought of him spending his eternity in Hell for the grave sin of ending his life. Padre Pio’s response was that her husband was not lost. Shocked by this she asked how he could possibly have escaped the divine judgment for committing suicide. Padre Pio smiled and said: “he repented of his sin in the period between leaving the bridge and meeting the water”. So that true story tells us that we cannot be certain that every suicide ends in Hell for the soul, though it is a very, very serious matter.

    As regards the suicide of this young man, it could be that he had homosexual tendencies that conflicted in conscience with his Catholic Faith and he couldn’t cope with the guilt of it. Of course it may be nothing to do with homosexuality at all, maybe just a general deep depression not salved by the grace of God, assuming he had stopped praying. I remember Bishop Fulton Sheen declaring that psychiatry is just confession without absolution, that’s why psychiatry doesn’t help in a very great number of cases. People need the grace of God in their souls, they need divine hope. Without hope of divine assistance and a happy eternity for sufferings borne on earth, it is quite logical that many would want to end what is for them a miserable existence. It’s called despair and it is not always related to mental illness. We desperately need God back in society, especially for the young. His banishment by the liberals of today is at the root of the present “culture of death” in all its various manifestations.

    I feel for the family of that young man who killed himself, may God console them in their sorrow and may they at least hold out the possibility that grace intervened at some point during the last act of their son. Since we have no idea about the eternal destiny of individual souls we must only hope in the mercy of God, who knows all things.

  4. DOTF

    Maybe there is another case linked with St. John Vianney, such as that linked, but I know for sure that the one I reported on was of St. Padre Pio. That’s positive because we now have two cases of divine mercy involving two different saints.

    • Athanasius,

      I must say that when I read your post about Padre Pio, I did wonder because I’ve only heard the story of St John Vianney telling the upset widow that “Between the parapet of the bridge and the water he had time to make an act of contrition.”.

      Would you mind posting a link or a source for the Padre Pio version because the account given in various places about St John Vianney is well substantiated. I’ve never heard of Padre Pio saying the same thing and I’ve read through lists of his “miracles” such as this webpage but can find nothing about suicide. http://www.mysticsofthechurch.com/2013/11/miracle-stories-in-life-of-st-padre-pio.html

      Is it possible you have confused the two, and thought it was St Padre Pio instead of St John Vianney?

  5. I have to say, I’ve heard the story of the bridge/water repentance attributed to St John Vianney many times; I’m afraid I’m always very sceptical anyway about anything attributed to Padre Pio, as I’ve said here often. There are so many odd stories attributed to him that I have very seldom quoted him, and long ago decided not to do so, unless irrefutably substantiated.

    The point of the story about repentance between the bridge and the water, of course, is that we can surely hope that he/she did repent before death.

    I remember hearing about a friend of a friend who had committed suicide by hanging and there were clear signs that she had tried to stop the act. The friend was told (presumably by police or another authority witness to such things) that it was not uncommon to find evidence that the person had changed his/her mind and tried to stop the suicide, when employing that method. We can presume that the same goes for those using other methods, that there is a point before death when they regret what they’ve done.

    Hence, with or without such evidence, we pray in the hope of salvation for that soul.

    Let’s pray for Mark’s friend in that same spirit.

  6. I’ve always thought that people who commit suicide must have been so severely mentally depressed that they wouldn’t be held accountable by God for their action. I’ve been spared that cross in my own family, but have friends who have suffered that loss, so I always encourage them just to pray for the soul, believing them to be in Purgatory. The story of the man who repented after jumping from the bridge but before drowning in the water, is a huge consolation and it’s a story I’ve told people living with the cross of suicide in their family, it really does give them hope.

    • Josephine,

      Yes, I agree. I always think that to commit suicide one must not be able to give full knowledge or full consent.

  7. Petrus

    Well, doesn’t that cover Judas? Or was he the exception in 2000 years?

    No, sorry, I can’t agree with the logical conclusion of your statement that most – if not all – suicides, are incapable of giving full knowledge and consent to what they do.

    Of course only God can judge an individual soul, and we must leave such judgements up to Him, as I have previously stated.

    • Therese,

      I was prompted, by your comment, to try to find a beautiful passage from Fulton Sheen’s Life of Christ, but Google is no help right now and it would take too long to type out from my hard copy. Instead, I thought I would post this EWTN commentary from a priest in answer to Bob’s question about Judas’s eternal destination.

      If I remember correctly, Bishop Sheen’s conclusion about Judas was that the tragedy of it all was that he could have been “Saint Judas”.

      Of course, it doesn’t follow that every suicide will result in the same fate. We must, surely, exercise the virtue of Christian hope (and charity) in order to pray for every soul as if that soul HAS repented by the grace and mercy of God, and thus reached Purgatory.

    • Therese

      I have to agree with you on this. Judas is a classic example of one who despaired of the mercy of God and lost his soul as a result. We too often look for psychological reasons to excuse suicide rather than recognise that it is often the result of an absence (or rejection) of divine grace. I’ve heard it described as the ultimate act of selfishness on the part of some who recoil at any suffering in their life.

      Of course there are cases of mental imbalance suicides, I don’t doubt that. But it has to be said that the sharp rise in suicides in our day, comparable with numbers from the ancient pagan world, seems to suggest a link with the present apostasy from God in our time. It’s also noteworthy that fewer young people are being baptised, which means they are much more under the influence of the devil, according to Church teaching, than those who have the benefit of that great Sacrament, not least a guardian angel.

    • No, Therese, I don’t necessarily include Judas in that. Neither do I believe that most, or all, suicides are not capable of giving full knowledge or consent.

      Clearly there are those who are so wrapped up in bitterness and hate who choose suicide as an act of defiance and a total rejection of God.

      This is a complex issue that we can never fully understand. So, with respect, I don’t think it’s possible to come to “logical conclusions”.

  8. Petrus

    With an equal amount of respect I cannot reconcile your initial statement, ie “I always think that to commit suicide one must not be able to give full knowledge or full consent” with Neither do I believe that most, or all, suicides are not capable of giving full knowledge or consent.

    I agree that it’s not possible to come to a logical conclusion with two such contradictory statements.

    • Therese,

      I think, to be fair, that suicide is such a shocking thing, and most right-thinking (I repeat, right-thinking) people cannot fathom it, that Petrus’s initial response is perfectly understandable. It’s perhaps only on reflection, and in the light of the writings of the Fathers of the Church about Judas, that we might be forced to acknowledge the worst.

      As you will undoubtedly agree, the truly Catholic spirit doesn’t wish anyone to be consigned to Hell, and I think that probably underlies the tendency of most, if not all Catholics to think (and pray) that the suicide did, somehow, repent before death.

  9. I suppose the bottom line is that suicide is a Mortal Sin. Objectively. And for that reason the Church has always treated it as such and rightly so. However, subjectively the gravity of that act is known only to God and we should leave the matter to Him. Meanwhile we can pray for this poor soul and hope for the best.

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